Provenance research on the sculptures of the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection

Provenance research on the sculptures of the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection

The Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt was founded in 1976 and  is responsible for managing and maintaining the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection. The collection currently comprises around 30,000 artworks of various genres from the era of Romanticism to contemporary art.
The aim of the research project was to do in-depth provenance research on 126 sculptures that were created before 1945 and were acquired by the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection after 1933, the beginning of the Nationalsocialist era. The provenances of the 126 artworks were either incomplete or completely unknown.

The majority of the artworks examined were acquired from the art market and private collections between 1980 and 1998. The objects included bronzes, plaster and terracotta sculptures, marble sculptures, wood and stone sculptures, majolica and porcelain. Larger groups of artworks were created by members of the former Darmstadt Artists' Colony, such as Bernhard Hoetger (1874-1949), Ludwig Habich (1872-1949), Daniel Greiner (1872-1943) and Heinrich Jobst (1874-1943). The provenance of the artworks was systematically researched for possible looted or confiscated objects during the Nazi persecution.

The research showed  that the acquisition history of 26 sculptures had no connection with the Nazi era whatsoever. Furthermore comprehensive new information on artists, provenances, and acquisition circumstances was researched and documented for additional 31 sculptures. In the case of a bronze bust, research revealed that it came into the possession of the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection under questionable circumstances during the Nazi regime. Further research should quickly clarify the circumstances of the acquisition.

In addition, the institutional history and the former holdings of the “Galerie des 19. Jahrhunderts” (Gallery of the 19th century), which existed from 1992 to 1996, was researched. During the initial provenance research project from 2017 to 2020 on the collection of paintings in the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection, the founding of the gallery turned out to be a separate research topic that was initially unknown. The initial motivation to create a new art institution on the Mathildenhöhe was the purchase and restoration of the so called Deiters House, designed in 1901 by the head artist of the artist’s colony and architect Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908), by the city of Darmstadt in 1988. After the restoration was completed, the new “Galerie des 19. Jahrhunderts” (Gallery of the 19th century) moved into the Deiters House. The gallery presented paintings from artists with a close connection to Darmstadt and aimed to show the contribution of these artists to 19th century landscape painting. But the gallery only existed until 1996, when it was closed.

In order to present a high quality collection of paintings, the city of Darmstadt engaged from the mid 1980s until the early 1990s in an ambitious acquisition policy and bought numerous paintings. The accompanying gallery catalog lists 129 paintings that illustrate Darmstadt's contribution to 19th century art history. Research showed that 72 paintings were newly acquired especially for the gallery. Most of them came from private collections as well as from the regional, national and international art market. The knowledge gained from the first provenance research project suggests that these paintings should be examined, too.

A book about the founding of Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection in 1937, the city’s art institutions in general and persons in charge during the Nazi era will be published under the title Die Kunststadt Darmstadt 1933 –1945: Erwerbungspolitik, Netzwerke und Akteure in Darmstädter Kulturinstitutionen in 2023. It is also intended to integrate the results of provenance research into upcoming exhibitions.

Depot 2242

Heinrich Jobst (1874 - 1943), bust portrait of Klothilde Juliane Scharvogel (1890-1969), 1908, marble, 41 x 17 x 22 cm, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection, Inv. - No. 368 PL, Provenance: Unknown, possibly aquired from the estate of the artist Heinrich Jobst